Unexpected Spirits at Tales of the Cocktail: Gin Mezcal, African-influenced Vermouth, Rare Japanese & Irish Whiskies

Stopping in at Anchor Distilling's house for a private tasting of Nikka whisky

Stopping in at Anchor Distilling’s house for a private tasting of Nikka whisky

At Tales of the Cocktail (2013 highlights covered here), one can easily taste hundreds of spirits in a week (not that one should). Most of what I find in tasting rooms and at events I’ve already had before, but there’s the occasional new release or product that might not have been released nationally. Here are two standout newcomers – and a few more to be imported to the US:

PIERDE ALMAS +9 – Gin Mezcal

Piedre Almas - Virginia MillerPierde Almas‘ line of mezcals has been one of few to come along since the great Del Maguey was imported to the States by Ron Cooper years back to make a big impression on me. Fully smoky, well-balanced, memorable, Pierde Almas mezcals are consistently excellent, whether a young, clean Tobaziche, or floral, green Tobala, available to taste in the Indie Spirits That Rock event during Tales.

Enter the first mezcal gin in the world. Produced as a mezcal (double distilled, made from roasted agave), Pierde Almas infuses their Espadín mezcal with gin botanicals for 24 hours, then distills it a third time, each run in a small, 100-liter copper pot alembic still. Though the effect of added botanicals doesn’t improve upon the best mezcal by any means, what I appreciate about this release is experimentation in new territory.

Rather than being juniper heavy, juniper subtly coexists alongside eight other botanicals (coriander, star anise, fennel seed, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orris root, nutmeg). The taste of +9 is unique: like a gin carrying the smokiness of mezcal, smoother from triple-distillation.


L'Afrique Vermouth - Virginia MillerProduced by Hammer & Tongs in Portland, Oregon, L’Afrique was the standout vermouth I tasted in the fascinating New Vermouth tasting room. Alongside vermouths I’ve written about before, like Vya, Imbue, Atsby, I sampled newer lines like light-and-lovely Uncouth Vermouth.

While I savored the citrus crisp of Hammer and Tongs’ Sac’Résine Fine Vermouth, it is the West and North African botanicals of L’Afrique that stayed with me. Hearkening to classic Italian and French vermouths, this unique vermouth holds whispers of African spice in its rich, earthy, complex layers.

To-be-imported to the US

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San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling imports Nikka whiskies from Japan. At a private house gathering, I sampled a few of their current (Yoichi 15 and Taketsuru 12 year) and upcoming releases, including the soft, tropical, vanilla wafer notes of Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky (distilled in a historic Coffey still), the floral, sherry cask influences of Miyagikyo 12 year, the gentle peat and dried fruit whispers of Taketsuru 21 year. My favorite of the six is one I tasted last year at the Anchor Distillery: Taketsuru 17 year, gorgeous with spice, toffee, and a nuttiness made more alluring with soft smoke.



Green & Yellow Spot Irish Whiskies

Not new but as of yet unavailable in the US, Green Spot (with its barely spice) and Yellow Spot (complex, toasted coffee and bright fruit notes) whiskies were poured at the invite-only Jameson House during Tales alongside bracingly beautiful Redbreast 12 year Cask Strength whiskey. Redbreast has long been my favorite Irish whiskey and the robust cask strength version ups the fruit and spice of Redbreast 12 year.

Enjoyed only when I’m in the UK and Ireland, I cannot wait for these to be available at home in the States. The crew pouring at the Jameson House still weren’t sure of dates but claimed the process is underway to finally bring these beauties to the States.